How to help baby sit up without rushing their natural development

Dec. 17, 2020

Sitting up: It’s an adorable milestone that seemingly takes your little one from a tiny squishy ball  to bona fide baby the minute they master it. Sitting unassisted is something almost all babies get the hang of in due time, but it’s important for parents and caregivers to keep in mind that, while there are things that can be done to help baby sit up, it’s not something that’s going to happen overnight. 

“​The developmental progression of babies typically starts with rolling, then sitting with support and finally beginning to sit unsupported at around 6 months,” says Dr. Katie Lockwood, a pediatrician at Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia, who adds that while there are ways to help facilitate the process, generally, it’s something that should happen organically simply by presenting a variety of opportunities for baby to explore. 

Wondering how to help baby sit up? Here are expert tips and advice for guiding your little one on this exciting process. 

When do babies start sitting up on their own?

While it’ll take some practice before your child is sitting sturdily on their own, the process typically begins around 5 months. “In general, babies are starting to sit with support at around 5 months of age,” explains Dr. Nick DeBlasio, a pediatrician at the Pediatric Primary Care Center at Cincinnati Children’s Hospital Medical Center in Cincinnati. “At 6 months, they need a little less support and they’ll often do a tripod sit, where they’re kind of leaning forward on their arms to sturdy themselves. Typically by 9 months of age, most babies are confidently sitting without support.”

Keep in mind, though — as the case is with all things baby related — there’s no hard and fast rule when it comes to the age babies sit up. “While most babies start sitting at around 6 months, there's a range,” says Dr. Brandon Smith, general academic pediatrics fellow in the Department of Pediatrics at Johns Hopkins in Baltimore. “Some babies may start earlier, and some may take a little more time.” 

How to know baby is close to sitting up

Wondering if sitting is in the near future for your baby? According to both DeBlasio and Smith, the more stable your child is in general, the closer they likely are to sitting unassisted. “You will notice that babies get less wobbly and require less support when they are getting close to sitting up on their own,” says DeBlasio. “When they first start to sit, they’ll likely fall over after just a few seconds. As they get closer to sitting by themselves, you’ll notice that this period gets longer since they’re developing the core strength needed to do this on their own.” 

Neck strength and head stability are also signs sitting isn’t far off. “When parents and caregivers notice that baby can support their own head when picked up, it’s a sign that they’re developing some of the strength needed to sit,” says Smith. “Additionally, they need good core strength, so pay attention to what they do in the tripod sitting pose. If they keep their back straight and don’t fall forward, they’re on their way to sitting on their own.”

How to help baby learn to sit up

Learning to sit is a natural part of a typically developing child’s motor development — and it will happen regardless of whether or not you do anything at all. However, here are a few things you can do to promote it. 

  • Give baby tummy time. “Tummy time is crucial!” notes DeBlasio. “It really helps with head and neck control, which are instrumental in sitting up.” According to Smith, a few minutes on their belly a few times a day is a great way to start, increasing the time as they get older and can lift their chest off the floor with their hands and arms. 

  • Hold baby upright. “Holding your baby upright or wearing them on your body will help them get used to being upright instead of lying down or reclining,” explains Smith. “Along those lines, you can put them in the sitting position for walks in the stroller when they get close to 6 months for more practice or just have them practice by sitting in your lap.”  

  • Provide safe floor mat time. According to Smith, at around 5 months, babies can enjoy floor mat time. “Put a mat down with some blankets or soft things around them, sit them up, and give them time to work on sitting up alone without you holding or guiding them,” he suggests.  

  • Don’t make it a chore. “Parents should make the process of learning to sit fun for babies,” says Lockwood. “Don't worry too much about teaching your child this skill, but rather let it develop naturally by providing them with the chance to explore everyday.”

Are baby sit up chairs helpful and safe?

There’s a gadget for everything these days, and baby seats, like the Bumbo or other popular infant floor seats — which are marketed as products that help babies sit — are no exception. While they may be tempting — and let’s face it, pretty dang adorable when in use — they’re by no means a must-have.

“I’m not a big fan of baby sit up chairs,” says DeBlasio. “It’s more important for kids to be on the floor or an activity mat, exploring and playing.” DeBlasio explains that when babies are in seats, they’re essentially “locked into” position and aren’t actively developing the skills and muscle strength needed to sit up. “These chairs don’t really encourage babies to develop the skills themselves,” he says. “I also worry about the safety of these seats, specifically babies wiggling out of them or being put in them unsupervised.”

If your baby is going to use a sit up seat, they should be watched the entire time, and according to Smith, only used when a child has decent head and trunk control. “They should be able to sit upright and in the middle of the seat, not leaned to the side or front,” Smith notes. “And make sure you are always watching your baby while they’re in it. They shouldn’t be left alone.” 

Lockwood adds that, even if you’re watching your child closely in their seat, they should never be on a high surface, like a table or a counter, or anywhere near water.  

What to avoid when helping baby learn to sit?

It’s natural to want to help or encourage babies to sit up, but make sure your zeal to assist in meeting this milestone errs on the side of caution. “Avoid propping kids up on couches, beds and the like when trying to help them sit,” says DeBlasio. “Infants are very wobbly at first, and this can present a real safety hazard.” 

Additionally, keep in mind, allowing things to naturally unfold may make for a more enjoyable process for all. “Our excitement and love for our babies can sometimes take over and lead us to push them to do things too quickly,” says Smith. “Allow them to guide you by showing signs of growing strength and body control. Doing things too soon, like sitting them up when they can’t control their head, can just make things harder for them in the long run.” In other words, be patient and have that camera ready for the momentous moment.

Tips and stories from parents and caregivers who’ve been there.

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